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OP-ED: Covid-19 has signalled a time for change

  • Published at 01:11 am August 22nd, 2021
The pandemic has pushed many back into extreme poverty Rajib Dhar

What does this mean for international development?

The Covid-19 pandemic has given us a chance to re-think our social contract -- to re-shape how we collaborate and cooperate with one another. The vastly unequal effects of the pandemic have exposed the cracks that exist in how we support each other, both within countries and between countries. Years of progress made in human development are now at stake.

Covid-19 highlights a new face of globalization -- the realization that no one is safe until everyone is safe is really a new universalism. Yet, while the pandemic represents a universal storm, we are not on the same boat. Some of us have well-built ships and have barely been affected or are benefiting from the pandemic. More of us, who had less robust but functional boats, are struggling through. 

Many of us, who don’t have boats, such as the 700 million people living in extreme poverty globally, have been left floating in the sea. However, even if you have the best ships, as long as there are people without a boat, you will still be affected.

Bangladesh is an example of a country that has persistently worked to ensure everyone has a boat. The small country has a globally lauded record of tackling inequality, poverty reduction, and public health, and a life expectancy of 72 years, which is longer than a number of regions in the US. Canada has been a partner of Bangladesh since its birth as a nation, investing in gender equality, education of people living in inequality and poverty, and assisting with humanitarian support. 

Bangladesh’s impressive development is attributed to its pro-poor policy, focus on inclusive growth, pioneering social innovations, and remarkable cooperation between the state and non-state actors, such as BRAC. 

Canada has supported BRAC since 1996 through an 18-year non-formal education program, as well as more recent initiatives supporting humanitarian activities in Cox’s Bazar and education and skill development in the Chittagong Hill Tracts. Given the impacts of Covid-19, this trusted partnership now needs to deliver more on social and economic recovery, to reduce the dramatic expansion of inequity caused by the pandemic. 

That is why Canada has announced a $45 million (Canadian) investment in this work for the next five years, and the joining of the Strategic Partnership Agreement, a long-term tripartite partnership with BRAC in Bangladesh and the Australian government.

With the pandemic estimated to force 150 million more people into extreme poverty globally by the end of 2021, there is a clear imperative for global partners in both the development and humanitarian sectors to focus on reducing inequality and addressing the years of progress lost by millions of people across the globe. 

The global response to the Covid-19 pandemic needs to be equitable if it is to be successful. International development interventions must support vulnerable populations susceptible to economic shocks due to the pandemic. Bangladesh has been severely affected by Covid-19, and a major focus of the partnership will be supporting the country to tackle the pandemic and supporting Bangladeshis to the last mile. 

The role of women in development will take centre stage in the partnership, as it has always done in Bangladesh’s approach to development. BRAC’s women-centred development approach, which prioritizes the empowerment of women and girls to ensure equal decision making, control over resources, and access to critical services, is closely aligned with the Government of Canada’s Feminist International Assistance Policy. 

The partnership comes at a time when the pursuit of new, more effective, and affordable forms of development cooperation could not be more intense, and international coordination to address inequity could not be more urgent.  

Bangladesh has a history of achieving significant development outcomes in the face of tremendous obstacles, due to its commitment to sustainable, inclusive development (supporting everyone to have a boat), and recognizing the strength inherent in communities in addressing their challenges and playing active roles in the planning and delivery of initiatives. This collaboration is an important step towards realizing shared long-term development cooperation goals. 

There is no better time than now to build new social contracts like this, with Canada investing in BRAC’s proven ability to tackling inequality, and supporting Bangladesh to build back better and resume its strong development trajectory.

Karina Gould is Canada’s Minister for International Development. Asif Saleh is Executive Director of BRAC.

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